The 727 Days Without Karamo: Berlin Review

Berlinale Still Die 727 Tage ohne Karamo - H 2013

Berlinale Still Die 727 Tage ohne Karamo - H 2013

Love battles immigration law at the heart of modern Europe.

Austrian director Anja Salomonowitz's emotive but open-ended documentary explores the legal and emotional cost of multicultural marriage.

A bracing start to the Forum section of the 2013 Berlinale festival, this Austrian documentary is an artfully composed exploration of the thorny tensions between multicultural marriage and immigration law in contemporary Europe. The young Vienna-based director Anja Salomonowitz, a Berlin veteran, has a strong visual style and a solid track record of films that address racism and culture-clash issues on a human-interest level.

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The 727 Days Without Karamo contains neither pity nor polemic but clearly intends to make a quiet political protest. But although these stories are emotionally engaging and universal in theme, the subtitled dialogue and specific focus on Austrian bureaucracy probably will limit overseas interest beyond German-speaking markets and niche festivals.

The film is a procession of thumbnail sketches -- 21 case histories featuring Austrians and their foreign spouses. Some are happy, others troubled, but all have been scarred by Kafka-esque immigration rules and occasional naked racism. The interviewees include an African-American chef amused by the Viennese taste for horsemeat, a Mongolian bride stuck in limbo in the snowy suburbs, and a young gay man in blissful civil union with his Colombian partner.

Most affecting are the young Austrian children with absent foreign fathers. Several of the interview subjects are in the middle of long separations after their spouse has been forcibly deported. One visibly traumatized woman reads aloud her father’s letter listing all the reasons her bi-national marriage inevitably will fail, concluding with the bitter payoff: “I won’t be at your wedding in Morocco.”

As ever, Salomonowitz shoots with a crisp, painterly eye. These vignettes unfold in long static shots, posed and framed with a formal theatricality that owes as much to Bertholt Brecht as to fellow nonfiction auteurs like Errol Morris. In keeping with her previous work, the director again chooses a dominant color to highlight throughout the film, in this case a vivid yellow chosen to symbolize both “courage” and “contempt.” This approach appears to involve some kind of subtle color-correction on the 35mm print but also, impressively, persuading most of her interviewees to wear yellow clothes on camera, including the guests at a real wedding. Bedsheets, bicycles, flowers and an entire post office help maintain this sunshine motif.

The 727 Days Without Karamo is not an objective examination of European immigration issues. Salomonowitz clearly is partisan and sympathetic toward her interviewees. No government counterargument to their stories is aired, aside from brief passages of immigration law heard in a sinister, whispered voice-over. This partiality is not a problem with the film, which is plainly more focused on love stories rather than political issues. But the large cast of characters with unresolved cases ultimately means viewers will walk away with a frustratingly superficial snapshot of a huge, complex subject. The result is a engaging but open-ended documentary that, like many of its subjects, feels a little stranded in limbo. 

Production company: Amour Fou Vienna
Producers: Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, Bady Minck
Director-writer: Anja Salomonowitz
Cast: Zora Bachmann, Osas Imafidion, Mutono Barota, Samuel Barota, Natalie Deewan, Johanna Bauer
Cinematographer: Martin Putz
Editor: Petra Zopnek
Music: Bernhard Fleischmann
Rating TBC, 80 minutes
Sales agent: Amour Fou Vienna